SOUTHERN CARNAGE: KINGDOM SHAKEN
Published on April 29, 2004 - Bodies of more than 100 Muslim militants, most of them teenagers, littered the roads and a revered mosque yesterday, following clashes across the deep South between insurgents and security forces.
The violence shattered Thai-land's reputation as a land of peace and tolerance.
The militants, mostly armed with machetes and only a few carrying assault rifles, battled policemen and soldiers in Pattani, Yala and Songkhla in one of the bloodiest days in modern Thai history. Authorities said 107 rebels were killed and 17 were arrested. Five security officials were killed.
The insurgents, many of them apparently suicidal, launched simultaneous pre-dawn raids on 10 police outposts and a police station in a military-style operation.
"Many had no more than a machete in their hands. It was like a death wish. This is scary," said one intelligence officer, adding that there is real concern that further attacks could be suicide missions.
Eyewitnesses said some attackers were screaming religious slogans, proclaiming "We are ready to die for God!" as they stormed outposts.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shina-watra was quick to declare victory yesterday, using the death count as a benchmark for success and praised the security forces for prompt and deadly response.
But the situation in the South remains tense and fragile and fears grew of far-reaching repercussions. The National Intelligence Agency warned young Muslims might regroup and launch new attacks.
Yet Thaksin played down the political aspect, saying many of the dead were drug-addict teenagers. "There is nothing to be afraid of. These are drug addicts," he said.
But Defence Minister Chettha Thanajaro said the attacks were carried out by Muslim separatists, and they may have received assistance from abroad. He described the attackers as "well trained" and added that worse is yet to come.
Witnesses said more than 30 insurgents took up positions at the break of dawn in the historic Krue Se Mosque on the outskirts of Pattani where they used the mosque's loud speaker to urge all Muslims in the area to take up arms against security forces and "fight to the death".
The group was decimated by midday when Thai commandos fired several rounds of a vehicle-mounted recoilless gun before storming the place, killing all the insurgents.
According to a local official, Wae-umar Wae-Daloh, the kamnan of Tanyongloh, where the mosque stands, 32 insurgents attacked a nearby police outpost at dawn before running to the mosque to position themselves for a showdown with a back-up unit. "It seemed that they were prepared to die, and they were going to fight to the death with weapons they had," he said.
Internal Security Operation Command's deputy commander Pallop Pinmanee said he gave the order to attack because he was afraid that as the crowd got bigger, the situation would pose an even greater security risk. "I had no choice. I was afraid that as time passed the crowd would be sympathetic to the insurgents, to the point of trying to rescue them," he said.
Local residents echoed Wae-umar's comment, saying the bloodbath raised more questions than answers.
They were disturbed by the high body count of suspected insurgents over a relatively short period.
"I am really concerned that the problems in the South will escalate further," said Abdul Rosue Aree, deputy chairman of the Islamic Council in Narathiwat.
"The incident will definitely affect Muslim people. They will have bad feelings towards authorities and the turmoil will continue and not be resolved," he claimed.
The high casualties also sparked suspicion that killings may have been carried out extra-judicially and not always out of self-defence.
The southern provinces are predominantly Muslim of ethnic Malay stock.
A separatist movement had been waged for decades but it fizzled out in the mid-1980s after many laid down their arms when the state offered them amnesty.
However, there had been many complaints recently about discrimination and police brutality. Some also claim they have been treated like second-class citizens.
Prime Minister Thaksin said yesterday's attackers were from the same group that stormed an Army camp in Narathiwat on January 4.
Relatives of the dead militants would be questioned, he said, adding that he would make a trip South in the coming days.
Army chief General Chaisit Shinawatra said authorities were tipped off about the attacks and had been on high alert.
The information came from a group of 10 teenagers arrested last Thursday in connection with the torching of 13 public schools in the region, he said.
Thaksin and Chaisit were granted an audience with HM the King late last night to update His Majesty about the situation in the South.
Meanwhile, shots were fired at one police outpost late last night, while a public rest-stop was torched in what appeared to be acts of revenge after the killings.